Lately, In Science

A bump in the night

Sarah-Jane O'Connor Sep 04, 2020

On the third of September, 2010, I – like many Cantabrians – went to sleep safe in the assumption that Christchurch ‘didn’t have earthquakes’. It was something I took quiet reassurance in: growing up in the Wellington region, where earthquake drills and talk of ‘the Big One’ were omnipresent, it was something of a novelty to live somewhere with “no … Read More

When debunking is just so tempting

Sarah-Jane O'Connor Aug 13, 2020

As New Zealand holds its breath waiting to find out the extent of the latest cases of COVID-19 community transmission, it’s hard to avoid the growing amount of mis- and dis-information online. It’s a very natural instinct to want to debunk this misinformation, but unfortunately, science communication theory shows that not only does this not work, it can be harmful. Read More

Highlights from Bauer Media’s science-related reporting

Sarah-Jane O'Connor Apr 02, 2020

Today has felt surreal. I was all set to touch base online with my science communication students when a colleague shared the news that Bauer Media would be shutting down its publications immediately. The first link I saw implied it was Woman’s Weekly affected, and even that shocked me. But when I realised it was everything – The Listener, North … Read More

News coverage drove Zika interest

Sarah-Jane O'Connor Mar 14, 2020

At a time when our news headlines are saturated with COVID-19, it could be helpful to look back at a previous disease outbreak for hints of what’s happening now. Back in 2016, the infectious disease of the hour was Zika. Remember the Rio Olympics and fears that Olympians would be infected (there wound up being no cases linked … Read More

When jargon makes you feel like you don’t belong

Sarah-Jane O'Connor Mar 06, 2020

It’s the cruellest Catch-22 in science: you spend years learning intricate jargon about your specific area, then this jargon makes it nearly impossible for ‘outsiders’ to understand what you’re on about. Anyone who has submitted a blog to Sciblogs in the past few years has probably received an email back from me pleading for them to remove or explain jargon. Read More

What’s in a name? Why the coronavirus needed its own

Sarah-Jane O'Connor Feb 12, 2020

As of today, the novel coronavirus spreading in China is called COVID-19. Why does it matter? Around the office, we’ve had several conversations over the past few weeks about how 2019-nCoV needed its own name. First, it was getting annoying calling it by the above designation, and ‘novel coronavirus’ doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue either. And it was … Read More

Grammar for scientists

Sarah-Jane O'Connor Feb 05, 2020

I’m about to start teaching science communication to tertiary students, which is equally hilarious and terrifying to me. (Hi to my students who have Googled me and found this post.) I loved English at high school, but we spent most of our time reading The Outsiders, discussing the differences between metaphors and similes, and pondering the thematic meaning of King Lear. But … Read More

Coronavirus ‘infodemic’

Sarah-Jane O'Connor Feb 03, 2020

Lately, my morning routine includes opening up our work email and checking the latest World Health Organization coronavirus situation report. It’s sobering to see the numbers increasing so rapidly – about 2,500 new confirmed cases every day and about 45 reported deaths. But I’m also reminded of the stark contrast between this outbreak and previous situations in terms of how … Read More

Yes, koalas are cute – but should we bring them to NZ? Errm, no

Sarah-Jane O'Connor Jan 14, 2020

It’s been hard to miss the extreme fires raging across Australia and the tragic plight of the animals – human and otherwise – affected by the fires’ insatiable spread. I know I’ve been captivated and concerned by the tales of how Australia’s famous wildlife has been coping. Koalas approaching cyclists to beg a drink of water, kangaroos seeking … Read More

In science communication, words matter

Sarah-Jane O'Connor Jun 21, 2019

Being a grammar nerd isn’t always the best way to win friends and influence people, but today I’m yet again reminded why it’s important to get our words right. Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Authority released its annual HSNO Monitoring report, which includes data on hazardous substances and new organisms managed under the HSNO Act. This year, they’ve expanded their … Read More